Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mini-Post III: Where the Boys Are

Quel surprise-partie. This mini-post stunt isn't working out quite as I had hoped. Part of this is because I went on vacation. Another part is because the supposed mini-posts end up being nearly as long as the cumulative ones would have been when they get their own space in which to gestate. A third part is that the more I try to unleash my id, the less seems to happen..But of course I will carry through with my intentions through this group of essays anyway.

One night while I was winding down another unproductive day by taking a Youtube trip down a memory lane that predates my own actual memory, I was directed to the colorful preview for this 1960 film, which is linked below, and determined that I had to see it. It is not from any of my lists of classics, but it is better and more fun than you would think it would be. The appeal of the female stars, in particular Dolores Hart and to a lesser extent Paula Prentiss, to me is very high, and a surprisingly peppery Connie Francis belts out several tunes, which in itself would be more than enough to make the movie a Bourgeois Surrender instant classic. When you throw in beatniks, dialectic jazz, a college course (for the women) titled Courtship and Marriage, footage of a to us scantly developed Fort Lauderdale, and George Hamilton (recently maligned in these very pages for his thin body of work post-1965 not being commensurate with even the modest celebrity he has continued to maintain) cruising for girls on the beach donned in his Brown University blazer, the richness of delights for me to contemplate threatens a very lengthy post, which however as I could not deliver it in less than another month, will probably not be forthcoming.

Dolores Hart is probably best known for retiring from Hollywood at age 25 and becoming a nun (really), in which calling she remains to this day, having attained to the title of Mother Superior. Her role in Where the Boys Are is as the beautiful but brainy girl who studies Russian on the beach and questions aloud during the Courtship and Marriage class if playing house before marriage is really so terrible (though she has not acted upon the possibility yet). She pulls it off about as convincingly as it can be done. I thought her part was well-written--her intelligence was not presented by a series of accomplishments or the ability to triumph in verbal one-upsmanship, but was embedded into the character by approaching every circumstance and interaction she had with others in a sensible and considered way, which is how I find highly intelligent women to actually be. Dolores Hart never has to oversell the fact that she is as smart as she is supposed to be, either through her physical expression or her dialogue, because neither what she has to say or the manner in which she carries herself suggests that she isn't. She is a delight throughout the movie.

There is an interesting scene where the Dolores Hart and George Hamilton characters discuss their IQs (hers is 138, his 140, for the record). Some feminist commentators--of which this film has many, though not all derogatory (Camille Paglia, for one, is a fan)--howl about the circumstance that the man's IQ just had to be 2 points higher, but in reality I don't think it is uncommon for intelligent women to desire a romantic interest to ideally be at the very least at her level, with the possibility of some mental superiority either displayed or hinted at. I liked the conversation because it fit my idea about what the conversation of smart young people--or at least young people with high IQs--should be like. There seemed to be something intimate about it--the idea of expressing to another person that one has a certain kind of mind as part of one's nature, independent of more concrete signifiers of worth, not that these were missing either in the context of the film--however they played a secondary role in the moment to the acknowledgement of a sympathetic general intelligence passing between two attractive young people.

While Dolores Hart's main obstacle to romance was her superior brain, Paula Prentiss's handicap was her 5'11" stature, this area also apparently always requiring superiority in the male partner if ideal romantic satisfaction is to be attained. Her character also maintained a good spirit and sense of humor until unfortunately relapsing into some desperation and clinginess at the end, but on the whole I liked her. She did the commentary for the DVD, which was a little sparse, but likable, and still often funny, especially when you remember that she is over 70 years old now. Her father was a college professor at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, which I had never heard of until recently, though I read something else which featured one of their graduates who seemed intelligent in a kind of offbeat, St John's-ish way, so my impression of it is that it must be all right in some way, whether their alumni are accomplishing anything worthwhile or not.

Connie Francis's obstacle to romance by the way is that she is supposed to be unattractive, or at least plain and invisible to men. She is rather short I suppose, but I don't generally think of this as a huge problem, and it is hard to figure out anything else that could be causing the boys to ignore her so willfully. All of the girls except for Dolores Hart are pretty desperate to meet someone, and even to get married, and Dolores herself gets picked up pretty easily on the beach, lasting all of five minutes the first day before she's heading off for a drink. I would like to take part in this kind of dating scene.

It should be noted that the number of black people in this movie is exactly zero; which given the way bit-part black characters were depicted in even good mainstream films at this time, is probably for the better.

Among the song titles of the dialectic jazz band are "A Meeting Between Shakespeare and Satchel Paige on Hampstead Heath" and "Don't Litter the Streets of Philadelphia". Goofy, yes, but funny in the context of the movie because they come out of nowhere.

This was made near the end of the old studio era at MGM, the most opulent and meticulous of the classic studios, famous for its musicals and other lavish technicolor extravaganzas. Paula Prentiss in the commentary touched on the sense one got, especially as a young person, of working in an environment where no expense seemed to be spared and craftsmanship of a particular kind--the MGM formula or package--had been advanced to a state of perfection. It sounds like the money was on the whole not thrown around or lavished indiscriminately but well spent on things like clothing designers and carpenters and in-house musicians who were very good but much of whose goodness also consisted in knowing exactly, or almost exactly, what was expected of them, all of which was course could be bought much cheaper and for arguably more pleasing results than similar talent could be today.

Paula Prentiss also noted that she and the other women and numerous of the men in the cast become close friends and remained so to the present, though a couple of the men have died, even to the point of having recently returned from hanging out with Dolores Hart at the convent. This close-knitness among people of the Silent Generation has been kind of a recurring theme lately--Shirley Jones mentioned in the commentary for Carousel that she had been good friends and even roommates with various people in the cast of that film and still did things like take vacations with these friends and their children on occasion. Moving to sports, I read recently that when Mickey Mantle, who was probably the biggest baseball star in this generation, was dying, a significant number--like ten--of his old teammates had a final reunion at his bedside (it is almost impossible to imagine this last scenario occurring with anyone on the contemporary sports scene. I think it is endearing. People as a whole seemed to have more in common with each other, or something which enabled them to make long-lasting friends at that time.

Though there is a seriously dark episode at the end involving the fourth girl (played by an exquisitely pretty blonde named Yvette Mimieux, whom I have neglected to reference thus far), this did not prevent the number of college-aged kids descending on Florida for spring break the year after the movie came out from increasing fourfold or more, women, doubtless in expectation of meeting a suave George Hamilton type rather than a boorish jock (or maybe not) included.

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